Thursday, July 27, 2006

Watt Pra That Phanom.... the Spiritual Center of Northeastern Thailand and Lao..

This Buddhist temple located northeastern Thailand is a royal temple and is considered extremely sacrid to the Thai people of this region as well as the people of Lao. I arrived in That Phanom, a small town situated on the banks of the Mekong River, on May 24th, 2006. I'd been invited by Phra Maha Wannachai, the Director of the Buddhist University in That Phanom, to come and teach English to the students. In addition to teaching English, I have also been studying meditation with the Abbot of this Royal temple. The first day I arrived at the temple, I accompanied Phra Maha Wannachia to the evening chanting. Following the chanting, the Abbot invited me to his residence where he was kind enough to patiently instruct me in meditation techniques.

Whether sitting in the second floor bedroom at the University that I was given to stay in during my time in That Phanom, or walking on the smooth, cool marble floor that surrounds the holy pagoda within the temple, I have thoroughly enjoyed practicing meditation here.

Legend has it that following the cremation of Lord Buddha in India, one of his disciples, Phra Maha Gassapa brought Buddha's clavical bone to That Phanom in Thailand. A special pagoda was built about 535 B.C. to house the holy relic. On August 11th, 1975, the pagoda collapsed and the current pagoda which stands 57 meters high, was built.

Whether looking at the towering pagoda by day or by night... it is truly spectacular!

A view of the outer wall of the second courtyard surrounding the pagoda which houses the sacrid bones of Buddha. The first small courtyard, with its wall that immediately surrounds the huge pagoda, is not accessable to the public. The brightly painted red doors on each of the four walls of the first courtyard are kept locked, and opened only for very special guests, i.e. the King of Thailand.

The four outer wall of the second courtyard are lined with gold Buddha statues. Behind the statues and set into the walls are small areas where the cremated remains of individuals can be placed.

This metal casket or vault, housed the sacrid bones of Buddha, in the pagoda which collapsed in 1975. Within the new pagoda, the sacrid relics, which consist of eight little bone fragments, have been placed initially in a glass container, which was then placed in a series of seven gold boxes. These gold boxes were subsequently placed inside a metal vault which was encased in cement. The series of glass, gold, metal and cement containers housing the sacrid relics are situated about 20 meters up in the large pagoda.

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